In this case, I saw a charting/FMS/display system that pushes the boundaries of the very concepts of each of those things. Two of Jeppesen’s human factors scientists were at the controls of the fixed-platform simulator and were navigating a route in at least four dimensions using the software. It was an eye-opener.
The system explodes the idea of the chart and transforms its data into a fluid, multifaceted tool that adjusts the information presented based on the phase of flight and the needs of the pilots.
This is not the stuff of science fiction. Jeppesen is already starting to integrate some of these functions into existing products. On its remarkable FliteDeck Pro electronic flight bag, for instance, Jeppesen offers an airport moving-map that includes everything you’d find on the paper chart and more. The pilot can even highlight the taxi clearance and share the screen with fellow pilots in the cockpit.
A descent, for instance, can be done automatically taking into account restrictions such as crossing altitudes, aircraft limitations and external inputs, including, potentially, traffic and pop-up airspace restrictions. The approach can be flown with numbers such as decision altitude, and with missed approach guidance displayed directly on the primary flight display, giving the pilot absolutely no reason to check the chart. In fact, there is no chart and no need for one. A chart, in this case, would be at best redundant and at worst a hazard.
The ultimate goal is to free the pilot of the onerous job of being the interpreter of data, a challenging task that has led to many tragedies.
Charts won’t be going away today or tomorrow, however. Even though Jeppesen is printing less than half the pieces of paper it used to, the need for charts for reference will continue for some time as our displays and the software that drives them evolve. Exactly what they will evolve into remains to be seen, but they will at heart be systems that transform raw data into information in a way that maximizes our efficiency and minimizes our risk.
And I, for one, won’t miss the piece of paper.